Memories of the World Cup Final will be a distant afterthought when Australia and New Zealand head into a season-defining, three-match Test series. The Black Caps head into this series with the belief that they can pip the Aussies in their own backyard, especially after earning a deserved series draw the last time the teams met on Australian soil.
The first of the three Trans-Tasman Tests is due to get underway at the Gabba on Thursday morning. The hosts will look to gain the early ascendancy while the visiting Black Caps will be desperate to get their first series win in Australia in more than 20 years.
The teams go into the first Test after New Zealand Captain, Brendon McCullum, had a very public jibe at Steve Smith in a piece he wrote for an English newspaper. McCullum criticised Smith after he “showed immaturity” by not withdrawing his appeal against Ben Stokes for obstructing the field in one of the ODIs played in England. Australia haven’t forgotten about the comments in the lead-up to the series with Smith and David Warner both levelling criticism at the New Zealand skipper for his own comments. The mud-slinging contest is likely to give added imputes to both sides as they walk out onto the Gabba on Thursday morning.
To Win Match
New Zealand 3/1
Australia will be desperate to atone for an uncharacteristically poor performance in the Ashes earlier this year. Prior to that, the Australians had traveled to the West Indies as well as India, winning both series in convincing manner.
Although they’ll be playing on pitches specifically tailored to suit their bowling attack, the Australian public will be well aware of the threat New Zealanders pose. The Aussies haven’t lost a home series since South Africa beat them in 2012/13 and they won’t be looking to relinquish that record now, especially to their Trans-Tasman rivals.
The Aussie quicks will be raring to go on the above mentioned wickets after toiling away without much joy on flat English pitches. The New Zealand top-order will have the terrifying job of seeing off the new ball in while it’s hurtled toward them by the likes of Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson. Much of what happens in the first Test, and indeed the series, will depend on how well New Zealand deal with the onslaught of quick, short-pitched bowling they’re likely to face.
Nathan Lyon will also have a major part to play as the ball gets slightly order. The dry pitch, coupled with the tennis ball bounce that has become associated with the Gabba will play right into the New South Wale’s offspinner’s hands. He currently holds the record for the most Test wickets taken by an Australian offspinner and will look to add to his tally when the New Zealanders come to town.
Australia have plenty of firepower at the top of the innings with the likes of David Warner, Joe Burns and Adam Voges all able to bat around Steve Smith, whom the Australian innings is likely to be built around. The Aussies bat deep too with Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon all very capable with willow in hand. Expect some massive totals from these guys if the top order gets going.
In many ways, this is a defining series for New Zealand cricket. The last time the Black Caps beat Australia in a series away from home was in the 1985/86 season when they won a three-match series 2-1. If they can repeat the trick this season, they will cement their place among the cricketing elite alongside South Africa, Australia, England, Pakistan and India who all occupy the upper echelons of the ICC test rankings.
If New Zealand are to have any chance of winning the series, their top order are going to have negate one of the best pace attacks in the world on the most fast bowler-friendly pitches in world cricket. Although their pace-heavy attack didn’t fire in England on some rather benign surfaces, they’re a different proposition altogether on Australian soil.
The touring party haven’t had the ideal preparation in the lead-up to the first Test. They’ve played three tour matches thus far. The Manuka Oval hosted a 50-over day-night contest as well as a two-day match on a dead wicket that resembled the deck that England and Pakistan played on in Dubai in October. The third tour match was played in Blacktown on pitch that was described as a “jigsaw with half the pieces missing” by Mike Hesson. Play was eventually abandoned after the wicket was declared unfit for first-class cricket.
Nonetheless, the New Zealanders have all of the tools necessary to spring a series surprise on the hosts. In Tim Southee and Trent Boult, the Black Caps have two of the best quicks in world cricket at the moment. While neither possess the raw pace of Mitchell Johnson, both have the ability to pile the pressure on the opposition top order early on in the match. Once the wicket does dry out, Mark Craig will come into his own. The offspinner will look to extract maximum turn and bounce on a hard and dusty Gabba surface.
They’re not looking too shabby in the batting department either. In Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum, they have an opening partnership that can decimate any bowling attack in the world on its day. Tom Latham and Kane Williamson are more than capable of anchoring an innings while the middle-lower order of Ross Taylor, James Neesham and BJ Watling can all chip in toward the back end of an innings. All of these guys will need to fire at some point in the series if the Black Caps are going to walk away with a historical series win.
The first Test is due to be played at the Brisbane Cricket Ground, or the Gabba as it’s affectionately known throughout cricketing circles. Curator, Kevin Mitchell, has promised a typical Australian wicket with loads of pace and bounce. Typically, the team batting first will have to negate some pretty nasty short-pitched bowling on the first session of day one. While the pitch looks quite green at the moment, the grass covering will be trimmed soon so that it can dry out beneath the Brisbane sun.
In what’s being billed as a battle of the quicks, the two respective offspinners will be licking their lips at the prospect of bowling on a dry, bouncy pitch. Nathan Lyon has an outstanding record at the Gabba taking 20 wickets in four Tests at an average of 23.20. Mark Craig hasn’t played at the venue yet but will be keen to exploit the bounce and turn that the dry surface will offer.
Verdict: Australia 7/10
The Black Caps will have to play out of their skin if they’re going to get a result against a fired-up Australian Side. Starc and Johnson will be itching to have a go at the New Zealand top order with the new ball, and if they make early inroads, expect the Aussies to turn the screws and put a brave New Zealand team to the sword.